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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Hyde report to be released today

December 8, 2010
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

Three years after Howard Hyde died in a Halifax-area jail cell, a provincial court judge will release an inquiry report today that is expected to recommend far-reaching changes to the way police, corrections and health authorities deal with the mentally ill.

The 11-month probe, led by Judge Anne Derrick, was the longest fatality inquiry in Nova Scotia’s history.

"I’m looking forward to her recommendations," said Dan MacRury, the inquiry’s lead council. "I’m very hopeful they will be a catalyst for positive change in the system . . . There is change coming."

During the hearings, which wrapped up last June, Derrick learned Hyde was a 45-year-old musician from Dartmouth who had long taken medications to cope with schizophrenia.

But on the night of Nov. 21, 2007, something went terribly wrong.

Hyde’s common-law wife, Karen Ellet, called a crisis hotline to complain he had assaulted her while in a psychotic state.

Police were dispatched and Hyde was arrested, but not before Ellet told them her husband had not been taking his medication and required psychiatric help.

Despite her plea, Hyde was never given the help he needed. The inquiry heard from multiple witnesses who testified that a psychiatric assessment would have helped the man, but a series of snafus, misunderstandings and overlapping jurisdictions got in the way.

In his final submission to the inquiry, MacRury said: "The system has to ensure that if someone like Mr. Hyde comes into contact with the justice system and the health system in need of psychiatric care, they receive it in a timely manner."

Police officers testified they had to bring Hyde before a judge because he was facing allegations of domestic abuse. But the booking process quickly spiralled out of control inside the Halifax police station.

A surveillance camera captured the moment when an officer told Hyde a utility knife would be used to remove a knot from the drawstring in Hyde’s shorts, saying: "I just have to cut off one of those balls there."

At that point, Hyde sprinted toward the booking counter, where he was tackled and Tasered.

The officers involved in the scuffle testified that Hyde displayed incredible strength as he fought them off, eventually vaulting over the counter and running toward a hallway, where he was again Tasered as officers struggle to control him.

Police testified that Hyde went limp and his heart had stopped after the Tasering. But paramedics revived the man and took him to hospital, where he received anti-psychotic medication and a recommendation for a psychiatric assessment.

But there was confusion over who would handle the assessment, given that police were saying Hyde had to be brought before a judge.

Hyde was released from hospital in the morning with a doctor’s note scrawled on a health information transfer form, saying he should be returned to the emergency department if the court failed to provide him with an assessment.

Again, there was confusion as to how those instructions would be carried out.

Police testified they didn’t have the jurisdiction to detain Hyde, and the sheriff’s deputies at the court said they weren’t allowed to disclose health documents to the Crown and defence lawyers.

In the end, Hyde was transferred from the court to the province’s largest jail — without medications and without an assessment.

The inquiry heard that early on Nov. 22, 2007, Hyde tried to escape from a correctional worker because he believed there were "demons" at the end of a long, windowless hallway. Two struggles ensued. Hyde died in a holding cell amid a tangle of guards.

A medical examiner concluded the cause of death was excited delirium with three contributing factors: the restraint technique used by guards and Hyde’s obesity and heart disease.

Excited delirium is a condition characterized by increased strength, paranoia and suddenly violent behaviour marked by profuse sweating and an elevated heart rate.

Kevin MacDonald, a lawyer representing Hyde’s sister, Joanna, told Derrick that the cause of death was likely a guard’s restraint method, which he said left Hyde on his stomach, struggling to breathe.

MacDonald recommended Derrick call for a ban on the use of Tasers and an overhaul of police restraint techniques.

"We want to hear from the judge as to her views on what happened to Mr. Hyde," MacDonald said. "That is part of her mandate: determining cause of death and the circumstances leading to his death."

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